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Birds of Ladakh

Ladakh region is the western extension of the Tibetan pleatu. Being situated in the Trans Himalayan region, it’s a cold desert with very scarce vegetation and the animals whether wild or domestic are subservient to its topographical and climatic conditions.

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Some of the prominent wild life species are as follows:-

  • Common Name: Golden Eagle
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    • Scientific Name: Aquila Chrysaetos
    • Local Name: Laknak, Nele, Gyab-Lak, Khra Nak
    • Size: Body length 88 cm
    • Description: This is a large eagle with long and broad wings. Tail is long with distinctly protruding head and neck. When soaring, wings are clearly raised and pressed forward in pronounced V shape. Juvenile is very distinct with a white tail base and white patch at base of flight feathers.
    • Habitat: High rugged mountains, usually well above the treeline.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted in Zanskar, Drass and Suru, Changthang, Nubra, valleys.
    • General Distribution: Resident of mainly North Baluchistan, Pakistan and the Himalayas from North Pakistan east to Arunachal Pradesh.


  • Common Name: Himalayan Griffon
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    • Scientific Name: Gyps Himalayensis
    • Local Name: Thankar
    • Size: Body length 125 cm
    • Description: Adult has a larger and broader body and slightly longer tail. Wing coverts and body are pale whitish in coloration. Legs and feet are pinkish with dark claws. In flight, wings are held flatter with markedly upturned fingers.
    • Habitat: Mountains, especially long routes well used by pack animals. The bird nests singly or sometimes in small colonies. Nest is a larger platform of sticks and rubbish placed on a cliff.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: Zanskar and Kargil and from Tsokar, Tsomoriri, Upper Indus Basin.
    • General Distribution: Resident of the Himalayas from North Pakistan East to West Arunachal Pradesh.


  • Common Name:Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier)
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    • Scientific Name: Gypaetus Barbatus
    • Local Name: Skiaklag, Brangcer,Khyaqkhor
    • Size: Body length 115 cm
    • Description: This is a huge sized bird. Has long pointed wings with small but well protruding head and a large wedge-shaped tail. In appearance, is quite unlike any other raptor. Adult has yellowish or white head, black mask and beard. Juvenile is mainly blackish-brown with grey face.
    • Habitat: Towns, villages and city outskirts, especially around rubbish dumps and slaughter houses.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted at Suru and Hanle, Chushul, Tsokar, Puga, Lungparma, Nyoma, Loma.
    • General Distribution: Widespread resident with some altitudinal movements. Mainly found in Pakistan, Nepal and India except the north-east and parts of south-east.


  • Common Name: Steppe Eagle
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    • Scientific Name: Aquila Nipalensis
    • Local Name: Lhak or Rewrgyabs
    • Size: Body length 80 cm
    • Description: Appears heavier in body than some of the other similar species. Wings are broader and longer and primary tips more pronounced and spread. In flight, tail appears slightly longer and protruding, head and neck are more pronounced.
    • Habitat: Wooded hills, larger lakes and open country.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted at Chumur, Hanle, Shey and Stakmo.
    • General Distribution: Winter visitor mainly from Pakistan east to North East India and south to Bangladesh, central Maharashtra, south Madhya Pradesh and south Orissa.


  • Common Name: Fishing Eagle
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    • Scientific Name: Haliaeetus Leucoryphus
    • Local Name: Nyallak
    • Size: Body length 84 cm
    • Description: In flight, the bird soars and glides with comparatively narrow wings and fairly long tail. Adult has white throat and neck and dark brown upper and under wings. Juvenile is different in shape with broader arm and longer tail.
    • Habitat: Mainly found large rivers and lakes. Is also found in tidal creeks and mangroves. Feeds mainly on fish and also on water birds such as common coot.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted at Chumur, Hanle, Shey and Stakmo.
    • General Distribution: Resident and winter visitor. Mainly found in Pakistan and in India from East Kashmir to North East India. Is also found in south-east Rajasthan, North Madhya Pradesh and south-east Orissa and Central Bangladesh


  • Common Name: Eagle Owl
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    • Scientific Name: Bubo Bubo
    • Local Name: Ugpa
    • Size: Body length 56 cm
    • Description: A very large Owl with bold dark brown streaking. Ear tufts are prominent, eyes are orange and legs are fully feathered. Bill is brown in colour.
    • Habitat: Mainly nocturnal, roosting by day in a rocky cliff or among ruins. Usually perches on a prominent rock well before sunset and again after sunrise.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted in Kargil, Paskum, Shargol, Suru, Tangtse, Hanle, Fukche and Nubra.
    • General Distribution: Resident bird and is found throughout much of the Indian Subcontinent, except parts of North West and North East.


  • Common Name: Kestrel
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    • Scientific Name: Falco Tinnunculus
    • Local Name: Thha, Khra
    • Size: Body length 35 cm
    • Description: This is a medium-sized falcon with relatively long wings and long but broad tail. The bird soars frequently with tail spread. In flight, wings appear longer and wing-tips are more rounded. Male has greyish head with dark moustachial stripe. Female has diffuse and narrow dark moustachial stripe.
    • Habitat: Open country, cultivated land, grassland and semi-desert, in hills and plains and open sub alpine and alpine slopes. Nest is usually in a cliff hole or on a cliff.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted in Suru, Shargol, Pashkum, Chiktan and Wetlands of eastern Ladakh, Mahe, Nyoma, Shey and along Upper Indus Basin.
    • General Distribution: Breeding resident in mountains of West Pakistan and Himalayas from North Pakistan east to Bhutan and probably Manipur; also Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Winter visitor throughout most of the subcontinent.


  • Common Name: Osprey
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    • Scientific Name: Pandion Haliaetus
    • Local Name: Nyallak Thawo
    • Size: Body length 58 cm
    • Description: It has a long, rather thin wings and comparatively short tail. Fine head is often held downwards and when soaring and gliding wings are sharply bowed. At long range can be mistaken for a large gull.
    • Habitat: Major rivers, lakes, large reservoirs, coastal lagoons and estuaries. Feeds entirely on fish present in these ecosystems.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted along Upper Indus Basin, Hanle, Chushul and Chumur.
    • General Distribution: Breeds in Himalayas, Kashmir, North Uttar Pradesh and Assam. Winters throughout much of the Indian Subcontinent except Central India. In Pakistan the bird is common and a widespread winter visitor throughout the Indus Basin.


  • Common Name: Black-Necked Crane
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    • Scientific Name: Grus Nigricollis
    • Local Name: Cha Thung Thung Karmo
    • Size: Body length 135 cm
    • Description: Black-necked Crane is a tall bird with a height of about 135 cm and a wingspan of about 62 – 64 cm. Both the sexes are almost of the same size but male is slightly bigger than the female. The upper long neck, head, primary and secondary flight feathers, and tail are completely black and body plumage is pale grey/ whitish. A conspicuous red crown adorns the head. The bill is greenish and the legs and feet are black. The juveniles have a brownish head and neck and plumage is slightly paler than that of adult.
    • Habitat: High altitude marshes are the most common wetland types where the bird breeds. These wetlands with small mounds provide an excellent habitat to the birds for breeding. The marshes range from 4000 to 4800 m. above sea level. Rice and potato fields are the excellent wintering habitat for the species.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted in the wetlands in Suru, Rangdum and eastern Ladakh. Typical areas of encounter are Tsokar, Puga, Staklung, Hanle, Chushul and some other wetlands.
    • General Distribution: he high altitude marshes and lakes of Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Gansu), Sichen (China), and eastern Ladakh (India) are the known breeding grounds of Black-necked Crane. The species is a winter visitor in China and Bhutan. In western Arunachal Pradesh in India, it winters regularly in small number at Santi valley.


  • Common Name: Bar-Headed Goose
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    • Scientific Name: Anser Indicus
    • Local Name: Nangpa
    • Size: Body length 71-76 cm
    • Description: Both the sexes are alike. This is an asting-grey, white and brown goose. The head of adult is white with two black bars. One bar is across the sinciput from eye to eye and the other is shorter below on the nape. The neck is brown with a white stripe on each side. The legs and bill are yellow-orange and the tip of the bill is black. At rest, wings extend beyond tail. In flight, wing-coverts and belly look grey with flight–feathers black. Juvenile is like adult but is paler and without black bars on head.
    • Habitat: The bird breeds on high altitude freshwater as well as saline lakes. It also breeds in marshes and rivers in high altitude areas. It is a nocturnal feeder in grasslands near wetlands and riverbanks. Sometimes it also feeds in the agricultural fields especially of wheat and barley.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: During summer season the bird can be easily sighted at Tsokar, Tsomoriri, Hanle, Chushul and along Upper Indus Basin.
    • General Distribution: The bird breeds in the uplands of Central Asia. In India it breeds in high altitude wetlands in Changthang region of Ladakh. The bird mainly moves to low-lying areas of India in non-breeding period. Within the state of Jammu and Kashmir major wintering flocks are found in Gharana wetland in Jammu and Hokersar wetland in Kashmir region.


  • Common Name: Wigeon
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    • Scientific Name: Anas Penelope
    • Local Name: Gobrakpa
    • Size: Body length 48 cm
    • Description: It is a medium sized duck with neck and small bill. Male has a distinctive creamy patch on forehead with rusty-red head and neck. Female is similar to male in eclipse but much duller. Bill is red with white tip and legs are orange in colour.
    • Habitat: Freshwater shallow marshes, lakes, open reservoirs, rivers and pools. Avoid deep water overgrown with vegetation.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: On very few occasions bird can be sighted at Tsokar and at Shey marshes.
    • General Distribution: Breeds across North Asia and moves to East Asia, northern part of South Asia, northern part of South-East Asia in non-breeding period.


  • Common Name: Brahminy Duck
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    • Scientific Name: Tadorna Ferruginea
    • Local Name: Muru
    • Size: Body length 64 cm
    • Description: This is a large rusty orange duck with pale head and neck. During breeding season male develops a narrow black collar on lower neck whereas female is without black collar. During the non-breeding season the collar is absent in male.
    • Habitat: The duck breeds around high altitude brackish water lakes in Ladakh, Sikkim and Nepal. The bird is a common winter visitor in lakes, marshes and rivers with extensive shingle banks. The nest is made in a carefully selected hole in a cliff close to water source. The Ruddy Shelduck is most alert of all the birds. Whenever present in a group of birds, this is the first one to raise an alarm. Both the parents contribute equally in raising the chicks.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be easily sighted around high altitude wetlands in Suru and eastern part of Ladakh and in the upper Indus basin from Likche to Demchok.
    • General Distribution: Breeds in Central Asia and then moves to South Asia and Northern part of South-East Asia in non-breeding period. The breeding range is from Morocco to Central Siberia and North China. In India the bird breeds around high altitude wetlands in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim.


  • Common Name: Grey Heron
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    • Scientific Name: Ardea Cinerea
    • Local Name: Bainlong
    • Size: Body length 94 cm
    • Description: It has long legs, long neck and yellow bill. The adult bird has a white crown, white neck with black lateral markings. The sides of belly are black. Under wings are blue-grey. For part of the breeding season bill and legs become deep orange.
    • Habitat: Marshes, rivers, lakes, rice fields, coral reefs and offshore islands.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: Wetlands of eastern Ladakh, Upper Indus Basin and Suru Valley.
    • General Distribution: Breeds widely in Central, South, South–East Asia and Central part of East Asia. Northern breeders move south in non-breeding period.


  • Common Name: Phalarope
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    • Scientific Name: Phalaropus Lobatus
    • Local Name: Phalaropus Lobatus
    • Size: Phalaropus Lobatus
    • Description: A small phalarope with slender longish black bill. Legs and toes are black in colour. Compared to male, the female is longer in size. Female has a dark grey crown and a small white patch above the eye.
    • Habitat: Winters at sea and is also found in rice fields, rivers and sometimes in inland wetlands during migration.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: In the wetland of Suru valley eastern Ladakh, upper Indus Basin and Shey marshes.
    • General Distribution: An uncommon winter migrant. Breeds in Arctic and winters in tropical seas across the world including South-East Asia. Most migrate over sea, few also migrate over land.


  • Common Name: Magpie
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    • Scientific Name: Pica Pica
    • Local Name: Katang-putit, Khasham Buru
    • Size: Body length 50 cm
    • Description: Body is mainly black with white flanks and belly. Has a metallic blue-black wing, with long tail. Juvenile resembles adult, but has greyish-black head and breast.
    • Habitat: Open cultivated upland valleys around villages with orchards and also in scrub forests.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted around Kargil, Pashkum, Drass, Suru, Leh, Nubra and some areas in eastern Ladakh.
    • General Distribution: Resident with little altitudinal movement. Is found in West and North Pakistan, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Bhutan.


  • Common Name: Red Billed Chough
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    • Scientific Name: Pyrrhcorax pyrrhcorax
    • Local Name: Chunka Khamar, May qung
    • Size: Body length 40 cm
    • Description: a black bird of crow family. It has longer, thinner and down curved red bill and red legs. In flight it has broader wing tips and square- ended tail with equal width of wing base.
    • Habitat: A terrestrial bird, the Chunka prefers dry and arid habitats characterized by stony slopes, short grass and shrubs.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted in Kargil, Pashkum, Skamboo, Leh, eastern Ladakh, Nubra and Zanskar.
    • General Distribution: The bird can be observed in the high pasturelands, open fields and nearby grasslands around the mountain village in Ladakh region.


  • Common Name: Yellow Billed Chough
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    • Scientific Name: Pyrrhocorax graculus
    • Local Name: Chunka-Khaser
    • Size: The bird is about 39 cm in length.
    • Description: Compared to Red-Billed Chough, this species has shorter and straighter yellow bill. In fl ight, the bird has narrow wing-tips and rounded tail which is greater in length than width of wing base.
    • Habitat: High mountains with cliffs, alpine pastures and cultivated areas. Generally occurs at higher altitudes than Red-Billed Chough. In some overlap zones the species may occur together.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted in Kargil ,Pashkum, Karith, Leh, eastern Ladakh, Nubra and Zanskar.
    • General Distribution: Resident, subject to some altitudinal movement. Mountains of West Pakistan and in Himalayas from North Pakistan East to Arunachal Pradesh.


  • Common Name: Chukar Partridge
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    • Scientific Name: Alectoris Chukar
    • Local Name: Rakhpa/Strakpa
    • Size: Body length 32–35 cm
    • Description: It has a light greyish-brown back and wings and a white belly. Its head, chest and rear are gray and it has white cheeks and a white throat surrounded by a black band. It has black stripes on its sides and a black band across its forehead. Its bill, eyelids, feet and legs are pink to dark red. Males and females look alike.
    • Habitat: A terrestrial bird, the chukar prefers dry and arid habitats characterized by stony slopes, short grass and shrubs, often situated near cultivation .The chukar is commonly found at 3,000 to 4,500 metres above sea level, descending from higher altitudes in winter.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: In Ladakh, the bird can be spotted in Pashkum, Sod, Silmoo, Choskore, Kanji and in some villages of Leh.
    • General Distribution: The chukar has an extremely large native range, spanning countries from Eastern Europe to China, Russia and Africa. Furthermore, it has been introduced to many other areas, including the United States, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere within Europe.


  • Common Name: Snowcock
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    • Scientific Name: Tetraogallus Himalayensis
    • Local Name: Ribja, Rebia, Gongmo
    • Size: Body length 72cm
    • Description: Both the sexes are alike and overall plumage is grey, white and black. In flight, shows extensive white in primaries, little or no white in secondaries and greyish rump. Under tail coverts are white and breast is dark grey.
    • Habitat: High altitude rocky slopes and alpine meadows. Rocky country above tree line. Generally found is small groups of 5-8 birds scratching and digging along hill sides.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: Hemis National Park, Suru, Drass, Zanskar and some other areas in Kargil.
    • General Distribution: Resident bird found in Himalayan high altitude areas from Kashmir to Kumaon and west Nepal.


  • Common Name : Pigeon
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    • Scientific Name: Columba livia
    • Local Name: Phurgon
    • Size: The bird is about 33 cm in length.
    • Description: Adult is greyish with metallic green and purple sheen on neck, blackish terminal band on grey tail and broad black bars across inner wing. In high altitude areas in Himalayas it is almost similar to Hill Pigeon, but is darker grey and lacks whitish tail band.
    • Habitat: Lives in colonies all the year round in villages, towns and cities. Wild birds frequent cliffs, gorges and ruins.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: he bird can be sighted around Kargil, Pashkum, Minji, Leh, Nubra and Zanskar.
    • General Distribution: Throughout much of the Indian Subcontinent, except parts of the North West and North East. Both feral and wild populations occur. Is common and widespread from sea level to high altitude areas.


  • Common Name: Dove
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    • Scientific Name: Streptopelia Orientalis
    • Local Name: Kamru, Gondil
    • Size: Body length 33 cm
    • Description: This is a dusty-plumaged dove. The under parts are grey to pink. There are black and bluish-grey barings on sides of neck. Juvenile is quite different in coloration with grey head and under parts.
    • Habitat: Open areas often near cultivated land and orchards.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: The bird can be sighted around Kargil, Pashkum, Leh, Nubra and Suru.
    • General Distribution: Resident and winter visitor to Himalayas, North-East India, Bangladesh and Peninsular India south to North Karnataka.


  • Common Name : Lark
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    • Scientific Name: Eremophila alpestris
    • Local Name: Chipa-gut, Up-tshakir
    • Size: The bird is about 18 cm in length.
    • Description: Adult male has black and white head pattern with black mask, horns and band across crown. Under parts are creamy-white with a black breast band. Adult female has black breast and diffuse dark mask. Juvenile has dark mask and pale yellowish underparts.
    • Habitat: Breeds in high-altitude stony screes and alpine pastures, winters in fallow land in terraced cultivation, bare sand stretches along mountain rivers and barren stony slopes of lower mountain valleys.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted in Kargil, Pashkum, Suru eastern Ladakh, Zanskar.
    • General Distribution: Resident with some altitudinal movement. Found in the Himalayas from northern Pakistan towards eastern part of Sikkim.


  • Common Name: Yellow Wagtail
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    • Scientific Name: Motacilla citreola
    • Local Name: Chubi Serpo
    • Size: Body length 19cm
    • Description: A small bird withbroad white wing bar, a conspicuous mark of identification. The male has yellow head and under parts and black with grey mental.
    • Habitat: Winters at sea and is also found in rivers and sometimes in inland wetlands during migration. Breeds in high altitude grasslands and near wetlands.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It is a summer visitor bird to Ladakh. In the wetland of eastern Ladakh


  • Common Name : Redstart
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    • Scientific Name: Phoenicurus ochruros
    • Local Name: Tsilder, Santig-nagpo
    • Size: The bird is about 15 cm in length.
    • Description: Male has largely black or dark grey upperparts with browner wings, black throat and breast. Some show narrow whitish band across fore crown and extending as a line above the eye. Adult male has black plumage which appears dull owing to extensive brownish-grey fringes to body plumage. The bird vibrates its tail like most redstarts.
    • Habitat: Breeds in Tibetan steppe habitat in meadows and scree above the tree line, stony ground with Caragana scrub and dwarf Juniper. Winters in cultivation gardens, plantations by roadsides and canals and riverine forest.
    • Distribution in Ladakh: It can be sighted in almost all the valleys of Ladakh.
    • General Distribution: Altitudinal migrant, breeds in West Pakistan and Himalayas from North Pakistan east to Sikkim. Winters in Himalayas and South through much of the Indian Subcontinent, except Sri Lanka.




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